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Clin. Lab. Haem.

2006, 28, 303308

doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2257.2006.00812.x

Reticulocyte hemoglobin equivalent (Ret He) and assessment of iron-decient states


*Department of Laboratory Medicine, Childrens Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA Satellite Laboratory Services, Redwood City, CA, USA Satellite Research, Mountain View, CA, USA
OnlineOpen: This article is available free online at www.blackwell-synergy.com

C. BRUGNARA*, B. SCHILLER, J. MORAN

Summary

Direct measurement of the reticulocyte hemoglobin content provides useful information for the diagnosis and treatment of iron-decient states. We have examined direct measurements of reticulocyte and red cell hemoglobin content on the Sysmex XE 2100 (Ret He and RBC He respectively) and the Bayer ADVIA 2120 (CHr and CH respectively) analyzers. Good agreement was found between Ret He and CHr (Y 1.04X ) 1.06; r2 0.88) and between the RBC He and CH parameters (Y 0.93X + 1; r2 0.84 n 200) in pediatric patients and in normal adults (Ret He and CHr; Y 1.06X ) 0.43; r2 0.83; n 126; RBC He and CH; Y 0.94X + 1; r2 0.87; n 126). In 1500 blood samples from patients on chronic dialysis, Ret He was compared with traditional parameters for iron deciency (serum iron <40 lg/dl, Tsat <20%, ferritin <100 ng/ml, hemoglobin <11 g/dl) for identifying iron-decient states. Receiver operator characteristic (ROC) curve analysis revealed values of the area under the curve for Ret He of 0.913 (P < 0.0001). With a Ret He cutoff level of 27.2 pg, iron deciency could be diagnosed with a sensitivity of 93.3%, and a specicity of 83.2%. Ret He is a reliable marker of cellular hemoglobin content and can be used to identify the presence of iron-decient states. CHr, reticulocyte hemoglobin content, r-HuEpo (recombinant human erythropoietin), Iron replacement therapy, Ret He (reticulocyte hemoglobin equivalent)

Keywords

Introduction
By directly measuring the mean hemoglobin content (pg) of red blood cell (RBC) precursors (Reticulocytes), early stages of iron deciency may be identied, at a time that other traditional biochemical parameters are non-informative (Brugnara, 2000, 2003). The measurement of reticulocyte hemoglobin content is a direct assessment of the incorporation of iron into erythrocyte hemoglobin and thus a direct estimate of the recent functional availability of iron into the erythron (Brugnara et al., 1994c, 1997; Buttarello et al., 2004). The mean intracellular hemoglobin content of erythrocytes (MCH) is an all inclusive measure of both the availability of iron over the preceding 90120 days, and of the proper introduction of iron into

Received 4 April 2006; accepted for publication 7 August 2006 Correspondence: Carlo Brugnara, Childrens Hospital Boston, Department of Laboratory Medicine, 300 Longwood Avenue, BA 760, Boston, MA 02115, USA. Tel.: +1 617 355 6610; Fax: +1 617 713 4347; E-mail: carlo.brugnara@childrens.harvard.edu 2006 The Authors Journal compilation 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

intracellular hemoglobin (Brugnara et al., 1994b,c). The absence of signicant interferences with the exception of concomitant alpha- or beta-thalassemia or macrocytosis, provides another potential advantage of these hematological markers over indirect biochemical testing, which is affected by a variety of factors, including inammation. The CHr (mean cellular hemoglobin content of reticulocytes) parameter provided by the ADVIA 120 and 2120 (Bayer Diagnostics, Tarrytown, NY, USA) was cleared by the FDA in August 1997, for clinical application within the USA (K#971998). Since May 2005, an equivalent parameter, the Ret He (reticulocyte hemoglobin equivalent) has been available for use on the Sysmex XE 2100 (Sysmex Corporation, Kobe, Japan), broadening the availability of a tool for assessing reticulocyte hemoglobin content (K#050589). Cellular content of Hb can be precisely assessed by ow cytometry in mature erythrocytes as well: the RBC He (Sysmex) and CH (Bayer) parameters express (in pg) the mean erythrocyte hemoglobin content. Examining both the precursors, and mature red cells provides an oppor-

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tunity to detect and monitor acute and chronic changes in cellular hemoglobin status. In this report, we compare reticulocyte and red cell measurements of Hb content provided by the ADVIA 2120 and Sysmex XE 2100 analyzers in adult and pediatric patients and assess the diagnostic value of Ret He in a large population of adult patients on chronic dialysis.

Materials and methods


Studies in pediatric and adult samples Samples collected in EDTA anti-coagulant were randomly extracted from the routine workload and run sequentially on both the XE 2100, and ADVIA 2120. Samples were run within 6 h of collection. The scope of the pathology included a variety of diseases considered retrospectively as being representative of the daily workload. Renal disease contributed 19% of the samples, Sickle Cell Anemia 4.5%, and Thalassemias 7%. Reference Range data were gathered from 126 normal adult subjects, all rst year medical students participating in a blood drawing/analysis exercise. Studies were carried out under IRB approved protocols S-04-07-080 and NS0505-005 (comparative analysis of hematology/coagulation analyzers). Precision analysis for Ret He and RBC He was carried out according to NCCLS EP5 as follows: after a device familiarization period, Quality Control material (E-Check) was run in duplicate, twice daily, over a 20-day period. This allowed calculation of within run precision, SD of the run means, SD of the daily means and total imprecision. Stability analysis for Ret He and RBC He was carried out as follows: 10 samples were selected, ve normal and ve abnormal. Aliquots of the selected samples were stored at room temperature, and 4 C respectively. All samples were tested at baseline, 6, 12, 24 and 48 h in order to assess changes over time. Studies in patients on maintenance dialysis Blood samples (1500), utilizing residual material from the monthly blood draw from patients undergoing routine hemodialysis in an outpatient dialysis settings were analyzed at Satellite Laboratories on a Sysmex XE 2100 analyzer. This observational study was performed on leftover material, after all the clinically indicated analyses had been performed. Samples were collected anonymously; no identifying information was recorded during this study. No exclusion criteria were applied during this study. The patients were a representative sample of US

ESRD patients with a mean age of 63.5 15.4 years and a male/female ratio of 56/44%. Patients were managed according to the recommendations of the NKF-K/DOQI (National Kidney Foundation, Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative) anemia guidelines (NKF-K/DOQI, 2001). All patients were treated with a variety of erythropoietin doses given three times a week, at the time of hemodialysis treatment. In addition, the majority of patients were treated with a maintenance dose of intravenous iron (100200 mg of iron gluconate) weekly or every other week in order to maintain iron stores at the recommended levels. Forty-eight percent of the patients sampled had signicantly elevated C-reactive protein values (>5 mg/l), consistent with the presence of underlying inammation, a common nding in this patient population (Yeun et al., 2000). Absolute iron deciency in patients with kidney disease has been dened as serum ferritin levels <100 ng/ml and serum transferrin saturation (Tsat) <20% (NKF-K/DOQI, 2001). Statistical analysis Statistical analysis was conducted with the use of Analyseit statistical software add-in for Microsoft Excel (for Windows). Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis was utilized to illustrate the diagnostic performance of ret He with ROC curves. Traditional diagnostic criteria for Iron deciency anemia diagnosis, included as criteria for presence of disease in ROC curve generation: Serum Iron < 40 micrograms/dl, Tsat <20%, Ferritin <100 ng/ ml, and Hemoglobin <11 g/dl). The traditional diagnostic criteria for Functional iron-deciency diagnosis used for ROC curve generation were Tsat <20%, Ferritin 100 800 ng/ml, and Hemoglobin <11 g/dl. The signicance of areas under the ROC curves for ret He was assessed in comparison with no discrimination. A ret He cutoff was established based on the optimal combination of sensitivity (80%) and specicity (50%), decided a priori as minimum requirements of a screening test for iron deciency. Values below this cutoff were considered to be abnormal.

Results
Pediatric samples and normal adult controls studies Figure 1 presents correlation data for reticulocyte and red cell hemoglobin content respectively. Data were obtained from 200 clinical samples and show good correlation between the Ret He and ADVIA CHr (Y 1.04X ) 1.06; r2 0.88) and between the RBC He and ADVIA CH parameters (Y 0.93X + 1; r2 0.84). Figure 2 shows

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C. Brugnara, B. Schiller and J. Moran

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40

40 38

35

36 Ret He (pg)
20 25 30 35 40

34 32 30 28 26

Ret He (pg)

30

25

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24 22

15 15

20 20

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Advia CHr (pg) 40

30 32 34 Advia CHr (pg)

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32 30 RBC He
20 25 30 35 40

RBC-He (pg)

30

28 26 24 22

25

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15 15

Advia CHr (pg)

20 20

22

24

26

28 Advia CH

30

32

34

36

Figure 1. Method comparison data, XE 2100 and ADVIA 2120: top, Ret He vs. CHr; bottom RBC He vs. CH. Data were obtained from 200 clinical samples and show good correlation between the Ret He and ADVIA CHr (Y 1.04X ) 1.06; r2 0.88) and between the RBC He and ADVIA CH (Y 0.93X + 1; r2 0.84).

Figure 2. Method comparison data, XE 2100 and ADVIA 2120: top, Ret He vs. CHr; bottom RBC He vs. CH. Data were obtained from 126 normal adults, and show good correlation between the Ret He and ADVIA CHr (Y 1.06 ) 0.43; r2 0.83; n 126) and between the RBC He and ADVIA CH (Y 0.94X + 1; r2 0.87; n 126).

similar correlation data obtained in 126 normal adult controls. Figure 3 presents a plot of the difference between ADVIA and Sysmex parameters, for both reticulocyte and erythrocyte hemoglobin content. There is a tendency for Ret He to yield values higher than CHr above 30 pg/cell, whereas RBC He tends to provide values lower than CH above 25 pg/cell.
Reference range data

temperature and 4 C respectively. All samples were tested at baseline, 6, 12, 24 and 48 h in order to assess changes over time. Data show that both Ret He and RBC He are very stable, with <1SD change over 48 h in all samples tested (room temperature and refrigerated; Table 3). Iron-deciency diagnosis study The goal was to determine the diagnostic performance of the Ret He parameter against the existing diagnostic tests for iron-deciency diagnosis (serum iron < 40 lg/dl, Tsat <20%, ferritin <100 ng/ml and hemoglobin <11 g/dl; Figure 4). ROC curve analysis revealed that by using a Ret He cutoff level of 27.2 pg, iron deciency could be diagnosed with a sensitivity of 93.3%, and a specicity of 83.2%. The area under the curve was 0.913 (P < 0.0001). A similar exercise was undertaken to determine the diagnostic performance of the Ret He parameter when

Table 1 presents reference interval data gathered from 126 normal adult subjects.
Precision data

Precision data were collected over 20 days and revealed a total Ret He Imprecision with a SD of 0.85 pg (CV 3.92%), and a total RBC He Imprecision with a SD of 0.29 pg (CV 1.33%; Table 2).
Stability

Five normal and ve abnormal samples were selected. Aliquots of the selected samples were stored at room

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10 8 6 4 Dfferences 2 10 -2 -4 -6 -8 -10 Means 10 8 6 4 Dfferences 2 0 10 -2 -4 -6 -8 -10 Means 15 20 25 30 35 40 0 15 20 25 30 35 40

Table 3. Room temperature and refrigerated stability for Ret He and RBC He Change at 24 h Room temp. 0.13 0.2 Change at 48 h Room temp. 0.35 0.12 2 Baseline SD 5.78 3.74

Parameter Ret He RBC He

Refrig 0.12 0.11

Refrig 0.25 0.03

Units, picograms of hemoglobin.

Fe Tsat Ferritin Hgb

<40 g/dl <20% <100 ng/ml <11 g/dl

Figure 3. In the top panel, the difference between Ret He and CHr is plotted vs. the mean value for the two parameters. In the bottom panel, the difference between RBC He and CH is plotted vs. the mean value for the two parameters. Data were combined for the 200 clinical samples and the 126 normal controls.

Table 1. Reference range intervals for reticulocyte and erythrocyte hemoglobin content parameters in 126 normal adults CHr (pg) Mean SD Min Max 31.18 1.67 23.3 34.1 Ret He (pg) 32.47 1.93 24.1 35.8 CH (pg) 30.16 1.82 21.8 33.7 RBC He (pg) 29.29 1.74 21 33

Tsat <20% Ferritin 100800 ng/ml Hemoglobin <11g/dl

Table 2. Precision analysis for Ret He and RBC He parameters Ret He SD (pg) Within run precision SD of the run means SD of the daily means Total imprecision 0.32 0.29 0.79 0.85 Ret He CV (%) 1.49 1.32 3.66 3.92 RBC He SD (pg) 0.27 0.16 0.19 0.29 RBC He CV % 1.23 0.74 0.86 1.33 Figure 4. Top: ROC curve analysis for Ret He and the diagnosis of iron-deciency anemia in hemodialysis patients. The diagnostic performance of Ret He in identifying iron-decient states was compared with that of traditional parameters for iron deciency (serum iron <40 lg/dl, Tsat <20%, ferritin <100 ng/ml, hemoglobin <11 g/dl). By using a Ret He cutoff level of 27.2 pg, iron deciency could be diagnosed with a sensitivity of 93.3%, and a specicity of 83.2%. The area under the curve was 0.913. Bottom: ROC curve analysis for Ret He and the diagnosis of functional iron deciency in hemodialysis patients. Functional iron deciency was dened tests as Tsat <20%, Ferritin 100 800 ng/ml, and HGB <11 g/dl. The diagnostic performance of ret He is less favorable (area under the curve 0.657).

compared with the traditional parameters for diagnosis of functional iron deciency (FID). Functional iron deciency was identied as Tsat <20%, ferritin 100800 ng/ml, and hemoglobin <11 g/dl. Using a ret He cutoff level of

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27.9 pg, FID could be diagnosed with a sensitivity of 40.2% and a specicity of 80.3%. The area under the curve was 0.657 (P < 0.0001).

Discussion
Measurements of reticulocyte hemoglobin content have been shown to provide useful information in diagnosing FID during r-HuEPO therapy (Brugnara et al., 1994a), iron-decient states in infancy (Brugnara et al., 1999; Ullrich et al., 2005) and response to iron therapy (Brugnara et al., 1993, 1997; Thomas & Thomas, 2002). A limitation of this approach has been the fact that these parameters were available only on Bayer instruments. Recently, cellular hemoglobin content parameters have now become available on the Sysmex instruments (Canals et al., 2005; Thomas et al., 2005). This study shows a very good level of agreement between the cellular Hb measurements performed with the Sysmex XE 2100 and those performed with the Bayer ADVIA instrument. The precision and stability of both Ret He and RBC He are excellent: minimal variations are seen over time in either room temperature of 4 C storage. Normal range values for the reticulocyte and red cell hemoglobin content parameters are superimposable between the two different methods. In patients on maintenance dialysis, the diagnostic performance of Ret He, when compared to traditional parameters for iron-deciency anemia diagnosis, was excellent, with an ROC area under the curve of 0.913 (P < 0.0001). Iron stores estimates do not provide an assessment of the availability of iron for introduction into erythrocyte hemoglobin. This lead to the establishment of a concept called functional iron-deciency, and has particular relevance in patients receiving recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO; Macdougall et al., 1992; Horl, 1995; Macdougall, 1995). In anemic patients receiving therapeutic doses of rHuEpo, the cellular requirements for iron are increased, and can lead to decreased iron incorporation into cellular hemoglobin, which is thought to hamper the effectiveness of rHuEpo therapy. Patients deemed to be functionally iron-decient during rHuEpo therapy, are given additional iron, in an effort to compensate for the relative deciency (Macdougall et al., 2000; Valderrabano et al., 2000). In diagnosing functional iron-deciency, the diagnostic performance of Ret He, when compared with traditional parameters was not as impressive, with a much smaller ROC area under the curve of 0.657 (P < 0.0001). However, in the absence of assessing the response to IV iron, there are no uniformly

accepted criteria to identify functional iron-deciency (Fishbane et al., 1997). The presence of inammation and uremia makes this diagnosis particularly challenging for dialysis patients (Sunder-Plassmann, Spitzauer & Horl, 1997). Attempts to use the baseline Ret He results as a tool to identify potential responders to increased IV iron therapy were unsuccessful in the functional iron-deciency subgroup (data not shown). This nding suggests that more than one sampling may be required in order to adequately monitor responses to therapy. In conclusion, this study shows a very good level of agreement between cellular hemoglobin measurements performed by two different analyzers in both reticulocytes and erythrocytes. The expanded availability of these parameters should allow further assessment of their role in diagnosing disturbances of iron metabolism and assessing response to iron supplementation therapy.

References
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2006 The Authors Journal compilation 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Clin. Lab. Haem., 28, 303308